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Haiti puts Ireland's troubles in perspective

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It's only Wednesday but this is already an astonishing week. Ted Kennedy's death has proved the Republicans' gain. Scott Brown will stand in the way of the healthcare legislation Kennedy himself fought for and desired. In Haiti, meanwhile, a great crisis plays out that puts our concerns in the US or Ireland in shadow. The death of Irishman Andrew Grene brings the tragedy even closer to home.

Monday was Martin Luther King day and I went to a tribute to King at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Gospel singers sang their hearts out. There was talk of problems and progress, and (muted) praise of Obama. But mostly people spoke of Haiti. Brooklyn has the largest diaspora population of Haitians in the world. The actor Danny Glover -- of "Lethal Weapon" and "The Color Purple" fame -- was keynote speaker, and he wondered what MLK would think if he were alive today (he would be 81). Glover's voice cracked, as he said King would ask why Haiti was so badly treated by history.

Like Haiti, Ireland has a closely-bound diaspora community. We've all known that unnerving feeling when it seems every Irish person is somehow connected to us, or to someone that we know. When I read the obituary of Andrew Grene I realized I had taken a class on Shakespeare with his half-brother, professor Nick Grene at Trinity College Dublin. But the Grene name was doubly familiar: I had also read translations by his father, a respected academic at Chicago University, unaware till now that the two Grenes were related.

Monday of this week was officially the most depressing day of the year, according to a report in the Irish Times. I can see why the Irish in particular might feel this. The country is on the brink of financial collapse, it has experienced a raft of scandals, and its famously bad weather has been even worse than usual.

But perhaps we Irish should be learn to count our blessings too.

I can't help but think about what one of the pastors said, also on Monday, at the Martin Luther King tribute. He joked that his gospel-singing congregation in New York are never in bad form. They simply tell him they are "too blessed to be stressed."

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